Change Our Story
Composer, author and philanthropist Peter Buffett on finding your own path to life fulfillment.


Original Sin

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
original sin 

Recently, I was curious about the concept of original sin and, not being a scholar of religion or history, I started where I often do: Wikipedia.

Within the first sentence, I realized why I had been thinking about this topic at this time. Original sin is also known as ancestral sin—the idea that sin lives and is carried through the generations just by being related to the original act.

And here it was Columbus Day, and Christopher Columbus, under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and carrying out a very commercial enterprise, is being remembered for his “discovery” of America.

The place he landed was Hispaniola in present day Haiti. Haiti today is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere by every known indicator. The deepest part of the wound is the point of entry.

When Columbus landed here’s a sampling of what he saw and his interpretation of it:

"As I saw that they were very friendly to us… It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants… They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. With fifty men I could subjugate them all and make them do everything that is required of them. They have no arms, and are without warlike instincts; they all go naked, and are so timid that a thousand would not stand before three of our men. So that they are good to be ordered about, to work and sow, and do all that may be necessary, and to build towns, and they should be taught to go about clothed and to adopt our customs."  

I am flooded with both sadness and rage when I read these passages.

That original sin spread throughout the hemisphere leaving entire cultures in ruins. Freedom dealt a crushing blow to people who actually understood the meaning of the word.

Because of my work on the television series 500 Nations, I know all too well what happened next—over and over and over again. Often using religion as a disguise and commercial exploitation as the fuel, millions of people were used up and killed. This may be a story as old as time, but this version is America’s story. 

A country built on enterprise and feeling pious enough to call itself exceptional, America was built on the backs of others. Either through forced labor or genocide, the country grew and never looked back. Yes, there are extraordinary things about this country. But just like every person on the planet, it has a complex story that must be recognized in its entirety to be recognized at all. Until then, it’s just running from its own shadow ... its own story.

In many ways, I’m not sure it matters who our next president is. This country is still desperately looking for redemption for its original sin. Until the creation of what we call the United States of America is seen in its full light, we can never clean up the mess that is being made in the name of “growth,” “progress,” and “prosperity.” There are too many people hurting to ignore it much longer.

Until we recognize that we are just part of a much larger whole—that we are only as free as the most bound among us—we will continually run as fast as we can towards oblivion. It’s time to create a new story by fully telling the old one. 

Imagine no religion
Imagine no possessions
Imagine no countries
Columbus landed in that place. 

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of Amy Long. 

 

 

 

The Possibility of Transformation

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It

butterfly

This is a song about transformation. While that may not be readily apparent by listening, it's the story behind it that explains why this is so:

“Butterfly” by Peter Buffett  

I grew up in a house with an upright piano. As soon as I could stand tall enough to reach the keys, I would bang out expressions. Thunder on the low keys, rain on top. Soon these turned into little melodies. Or I would use the keyboard to try and decipher the mystery behind what made a good song so good.

I was taking lessons by the time I went into the first grade. But after learning the basics of scales and correct fingering, I started to get frustrated at all those black dots and lines on the page. It was a lot more fun to make things up; to try and capture the ideas I heard in my head. 

By the time I was in high school, I was playing four-handed piano with a friend and soon realized that my skills were limited. I just couldn't hear the kinds of things he was hearing. I couldn't seem to sense what complexities lay beneath the simple melodies and harmonic structure that came naturally to me. And while I never really considered that music would be any more than a pleasant diversion, this greater awareness of my limitations sealed the deal. 

I went off to college without a clear idea of what would come of it. Taking everything that ended in 101 or -ology, I enjoyed learning a little about a lot of things. But nothing reached in and said, "This is your life!"

I was fortunate to have a little money set aside that allowed me to buy a portable piano and a 4-track reel to reel tape recorder. So I would continue to play and write songs when I wasn't in school. It was also around this time that my continual wish that I could play the guitar came into full bloom. Oh how nice it would be to grab a guitar and head to the beach and play. Somehow, strapping a piano to my back just wasn't an option. 

College progressed and there was no clear path in sight. 

One night, a friend suggested I come over to his dorm and check out a local guitar player that was coming by to perform. I did, and it changed my life. 

Here was someone—William Ackerman, to be specific—who was sitting on the floor playing from his heart. Simple melodies that spoke so much more than any complex chord or harmonic structure could ever do.

I raced home and started to create songs that were both new, and that I knew by heart. From that point forward music would be the driving force in my life. I wish I could say precisely what that moment triggered in me. But I do know that it took every aspect of my life up until that point to make that moment what it was. I couldn't have planned it. And I couldn't have made it happen any sooner. All the experiences and frustrations—smart choices and wrong directions—lead me right to the perfect place. 

Since then, I've still always wanted to play the guitar. To be able to sit down and just let my heart speak through the strings. But ultimately, I never had the discipline to learn. 

So now, as of the latest download of the latest version of "this really sounds like a guitar," I can sit at the piano and let my hands believe they are holding a guitar and my fingers believe that they are playing the strings. 

This song is about the beginning of my journey into a life of music. And the completion of one part I wasn't so sure would ever be possible: to create the sounds I would make if I just sat down with a guitar and free associated as I would if I could really play one. 

Like a butterfly, my fingers would light where they would and then move on. I wonder if the butterfly remembers the comfort of its cocoon? And what made it too uncomfortable to stay there? There's the possibility of transformation in each of us. What will it take? Too much discomfort with the old? Or a path as clear as a guitar player playing from his heart?

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future. 

Image courtesy of Randy Read, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

Poison the River - Part 3

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
respect 

I hope we can agree on one thing: Everything goes in cycles. Nothing lasts forever (OK, two things).

We’ve been on a 150-200 year cycle of “progress” that's become increasingly rapid, and now maybe we can settle down a little. Of course things can still feel productive. And I’m certainly not romanticizing the past. I’m thrilled about indoor plumbing, etc.

But now we can actually see, hear, and measure the impact of seeking tangible monetary gains over any kind of loss. Relationships are being torn apart. Relationship to the things we do, the people we love, the food we eat, and the place we call home.

From what I can tell, it must be really important to either have lots money in the bank or be absolutely sure that everyone else’s interpretation of God is wrong (or both). And it seems to help if everyone looks and acts pretty much like you do.

This can’t be right. There has to be another way. I know, I know—it’s always been this way, it’s the human condition, etc., but I don’t believe it. You want progress? I’ll give you progress: human beings in respectful relation to themselves and the world they inhabit, living as a part of an ecosystem. Forget tolerance—I'm talking about respect.

We’ve all been wounded. We all were born needing love and nurturing. And none of us got it the way we’d hoped for. It’s impossible.

So let’s see that in each other. We should respect each other for the complicated lives we’ve all led, and acknowledge that many are trying to live up to something or someone in order to be seen and heard (and fed and loved). We start life seeking acceptance and fearing harsh judgment.

I’m not saying we all have to like each other (I just let a bunch of people off the hook, including me), but respect has compassion hidden somewhere inside it. “I may not like you, but I know that you have a story that got you where you are.” We must have respect for someone else’s path; compassion for someone else’s pain.

If the river helps keep the water in circulation, when it’s poisoned, the whole system is sick. Get the poison out and the system will eventually return to a healthy balance.

I believe that as we hear more people’s stories, the various poisons in the river will become more obvious. Then we can head upstream and start cleaning it up.

It’s time to remember the mystery: We’ve mapped the planet and enough of the universe. The subatomic world is just too damn small. Don’t forget that when the greatest scientists come to great conclusions, they always recognize that there is a place that will always be unknowable. We’ve always needed stories to make sense of this. But many of the recent ones —say, the last few thousand years—don’t serve us too well now. We need new stories; stories to live in to.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of Editor B, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

 

Poison the River - Part 2

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
tv dinner 

For many thousands of years, most of life was a mystery. Still today it can feel pretty mysterious walking on an unlit country road. We created many (many, many) stories to account for the things we didn’t understand. Unknown places were where the gods and scary things lived.

Season’s cycles were a mystery .... and then we domesticated plants. Animals were a mystery ... and then we domesticated animals. The stars and planets were a mystery ... and then we charted the heavens. Having looked outward, we started looking inward. Anatomy, psychology, quantum mechanics; everything became “understood.” Science was trying to prove that everything was measurable and could be named – or it just wasn’t “real.”

For the past 150 years, change has come more rapidly. It’s often called progress. From electricity, the telephone, and broadcasting, to steam power, the assembly line, and air travel. Throw in refrigeration and advertising and you’ve got a lot of things to adjust to. It’s no wonder that the things on the planet involved in all this got a little off track. No wonder it’s called progress and seemingly everyone wants in on it. It feels pretty damn exciting.

But recent progress has given us something old again: the ability to hear stories from the storyteller. That hasn’t happened in about 500 years. The printing press was the first form of broadcasting; the first time the story was separated from the storyteller. Increasingly, our ability to relate to each other became more fragmented.

The nuclear family?  It’s a myth; part of the problem, actually.

It was brought about through modern convenience ... and home mortgages. At birth, we used to be passed around. Taken care of by people that loved us as we learned to trust, mostly with our eyes. Bonds were formed at the very earliest age through eye contact and touch. Starting about sixty years ago, things started to change. All manner of things allowed the family to become more insular. I certainly remember making myself a TV dinner more than once.

This lessened the ability for most of us—you, and me, and Dick Cheney among others—to create the neural pathways that for millennia helped us understand our fellow man and be confident in safe, loving relationships. It wasn’t perfect, but it was markedly different.

Next week: Can we turn this ship around?

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of Hieropenen, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

 

Poison The River - Part 1

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 

dirty river 

I wrote the song "Poison the River" after watching the documentary film, Last Call At The Oasis. I was asked to write a song for the Chinese release of the film for the singer Sarah Li. This is also the first song recorded in my newly finished studio in upstate New York.  And while I was thinking of all the facts and figures I could research and pull together for this essay, I realized that my own backyard was actually the place to start, as it increasingly is for everyone when there’s talk about water.

Now you may think I’m going to bring up the issue of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” But if you want to learn more about that, and how you, too, can light your tap water on fire, see the various articles on the subject and the film, Gasland.

No, this is about a simple act of dumping silt and other particulate matter from a reservoir into a creek so that the water is more palatable to drink while the waste creates a huge issue downstream (irrigation for farmers etc..). The creek looks more like a river of chocolate in Willy Wonka than the pristine stream it once was.

So I’m just going to focus on the “upstream,” “downstream” issue. Metaphorically, this is the issue of the day. For millennia, the downstream effects of the upstream behavior were never seen. Whether it’s in social, economic, political or environmental terms, most people went blindly about their business without seeing the full ramifications of what they were doing. This is not to say people didn’t care—although I’m afraid there will always be some of those—but “out of sight, out of mind” has played a huge role in how we’ve gotten into the environmental (among others) mess we’re in now.

I remember as a child hearing someone say, “Finish your dinner. There are children starving in (place name of 'developing' country here)."

As I got older, I wondered why that had to be. There must not be enough to go around. I never considered that something might be broken systemically; that maybe things need to be re-prioritized in some way. Are we putting emphasis on the wrong metrics?

If the engine is growth, return on investment. And if the fuel is efficiency? Productivity. The exhaust is ... whatever gets in the way.

If the driver of this car is rewarded in ways considered valuable in society, a lack of respect develops for anything that isn’t in right relation to the goals of the driver. The driver is trying to make a little more with a little less all the time.

“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.” Kenneth E. Boulding 

To me, the behavior sounds like someone that’s afraid. How can I keep getting more so I can feel safe enough or important enough? Or maybe it’s just a survival instinct that we all possess: "Let’s make sure we have enough in case it’s a hard winter" or "I’ll look important so I attract a good partner." 

Whatever the case, and I’m sure there are thousands of them, we don’t live in that world anymore. We can see our brothers and sisters across the globe. We can distribute necessary things far and wide. We are connected in ways that have never happened in history.

Next week, one version of how we got to this point.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of DeltaMike, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

 

More Room to Spread the Wealth

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.

I wrote my latest song, "Room Enough," at the end of the summer, and last week’s blog that accompanied it was written just as I was nearing the end of what I think I’ll call— and try to replicate again—a summer of “being.” There was not a lot of “doing” going on.

It took a little time to get used to. But we are, in fact, human “beings.” So it was interesting to live up to the name. A lot of the experience was optimized by our recent move to the country from New York City. The difference between having your shoes hit the pavement and your feet touch the ground is even more extraordinary than I imagined.

And I always love writing that word—extraordinary—because it suddenly takes on a different meaning: extra ... ordinary. Which is exactly what our feet on the ground should be ... very, very ordinary. In some medical practices, the feet are a window into the whole body.
 

foot chart 2 

So imagine this: our ancestors walking barefoot, constantly getting a body check and knowing when something was feeling right or wrong and potentially solving the issues through more walking!

But I digress ... my point was that the first blog regarding this new song felt like the tip of the iceberg; another piece of information to the puzzle of why we’re in the incredibly divisive and unequal world we seem to be in.

The latest bit of news I’ve learned is that, according to a recent study by the Tax Justice Network, there is $21 to $31 trillion worth of wealth hidden in tax shelters outside the home countries of the super wealthy.

This number (on the low side) is about the equivalent to the combined economies of the United States and Japan.

The lead author of the report states that, “The hidden offshore sector is large enough to make a significant difference to all or conventional measures of inequality.”

Now I can understand that way back when—when our ancestors were walking barefoot and we learned how to domesticate plants—that maybe we’d hold onto a little bit of this year’s bounty in case we had a bad year next time around. But things have gotten a little out of hand, and hand-to-mouth for far too many.

Why are so few holding on to so much? Why is sharing, spreading, equalizing our wealth so quickly heralded as socialist or beyond without any sense of common humanity? There was a term used by the “founders” of this country: commonwealth. Common Wealth. Sort of like Extra Ordinary. Words to live by. Words that allow us to be.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image from Wikimedia Commons  

 

 

 

Room Enough

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It

mansion

This is a song about finding common ground. And the idea that if we start from the inside out, and from our very earliest memories of how we thought the world was put together, we’d probably find such a similarity in feelings that we’d be surprised and saddened at how divisive we’ve become:

“Room Enough” by Peter Buffett  

I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and found someone posting about Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention. Actually, there were a lot of posts about it. But this one was in support of his ideology (I try to have a few contrary “friends” just to keep tabs on all this divisive story telling I seem to write so much about).

I followed the link to a conservative website and was stunned as I read the comments. I’m not saying that this is a conservative only trait, but the vitriol that was leveled at the single commenter that had a dissenting opinion was stunning. At this point I realize I’m probably sounding Pollyannaish to many. I suppose some people may accuse me of that on a weekly basis. But I was truly amazed at the intensity of the attacks.

As we head into the most heated months of the election cycle, I start to question whether there’s any interest at all in a search for common ground. Or any curiosity about what motivates the “other side” in its quest for power. And at the same time, I wonder if, when elected, there would be huge differences between the abilities of one president to get things done over another. If “landmark” legislation were passed how long would it be before it was dismantled?

I will keep writing, singing, saying; it’s about opening our hearts to what we’ve always known, what we were born knowing.

As this month’s song says at the outset:

Nobody can save your soul
And you can’t buy a life with gold
So take another look at what you hold. 

Now I’m going to direct this specifically at the ultra wealthy (and you may find that humorous). Why on earth are people holding onto billions of dollars, or multiple mega-mansions, or any number of massive purchases that sit idle?

Is there enough for everyone if everyone only holds onto just enough? So, what is enough?

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future. 

Image courtesy of fallingwater123, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 







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